Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Does this convey his bigness?

When old dormice like us need to buy each other presents it’s a long-term, covert operation. Neither is inclined to wait months for something we want and bang goes another choice. The trick is to listen carefully to murmured exchanges during that somnolent Sunday-newpaper part of the week and then spirit away what’s been learned. That’s why I’m now reading “American Prometheus” a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, who masterminded Los Alamos then fell foul of the anti-Red witch hunts in the fifties. (Note: The protruding bookmark was a gift from Plutarch.)

Oppenheimer was a clever man – marvellous on intuitive leaps into obscure regions of physics. His cleverness is measured by those he worked with and who thought well of him. Since his golden period was when physics was turned on its head by quantum mechanics, his address book contained all the big names: Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Rutherford, Pauli, usw.

I’m well aware not everyone out there is turned on by physics so I need an analogy. Say you’re a committed Christian; imagine a time-warped contact with someone who had rubbed shoulders with the twelve disciples. Something on that scale. That’s all on Oppie, for the moment anyway.

MUG SHOT Lucy has just celebrated her acquisition of a new tea mug from a craft shop in Josselin, a Breton town I dimly recall – but for what? Beautifully photographed, checked out for lip contact, tis a thing to be desired. My mug, another gift from Mrs BB, may be my most treasured possession. Acquired over a decade ago from John Lewis, it is bone china, has a William Morris pattern and is of austerely correct design. Fits my lip perfectly.


Sir Hugh said...

My favourite mug has a copy of the World War 2 propaganda poster urging one to "Keep calm and carry on". The background colour is Ferrari red which matches the colour of my kitchen upper cupboard doors, the lower ones being black.

I am just reading the twelve volume Dance to the music of time" - Anthony Powell, and from his descriptions of wartime Britain I think most of the British public innately followed the advice of this slogan. I was born in 1939 and have recollections of WW2 and its long aftermath, but the more I read about it the less I seem to be able to comprehend the shear scale.

The Crow said...

Several years ago, PBS broadcast a piece on Oppenheimer that was very good.

I remember a quote attributed to him, in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: "What have we done?"

My parents worked on the Manahattan Project in Oakridge, TN in '42 and '43. I always wondered what they thought of their roles, small as they were, in the development of atomic weapons. I never thought to ask them.

Barrett Bonden said...

Sir Hugh: The popular view is that people did keep calm and carry on. However, a certain amount of unease creeps in when you realise that this is what the government wanted everyone to think. During the war facts were disclosed selectively, sometimes not at all. Stalin, for instance, was referred to as Uncle Joe - a cuddly name for someone who killed thousands of his countrymen. The difference is he was an ally at the time. My personal belief is that those who didn't remain calm were elbowed off into some place where calmness was imposed upon them; others took the hint.

The Crow: Oppenheimer is supposed to have said, post Hiroshima, "I am Shiva." (referring to the Hindu god of destruction). As to your parents I think they are perfectly entitled to have held two quite separate views. During the build-up most people (other than scientists in the know) would have regarded the A-bomb as just another weapon - no different from a field gun, a Flying Fortress or a Garand rifle. Afterwards they perhaps changed their minds or rationalised the bomb's creation in terms of American lives saved from invading the Japanese mainland. Both these views seem legitimate. What is less palatable is dropping the second bomb on Nagasaki.

Lucy said...

Oh that's nice with the WM orange tree...

Rouchswalwe said...

Oppenheimer and William Morris in the same post. Destruction and creation. Science and Arts & Crafts.
Having been in Nagasaki in 1987, I must agree that the dropping of the 2nd bomb was truly horrendous.